Thursday, August 13, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Thirteen

Chapter 13 – the very short version: Catherine tells her brother and the Thorpes to take a long carriage ride off a short pier, then has to race to the Tilneys house to set things right after Thorpe tries to cancel her walk with them; she's introduced to General Tilney for her trouble.

Chapter 13
It's Sunday afternoon, and while everyone was out walking about (as folks were wont to do of a Sunday afternoon), Catherine has met up with Eleanor Tilney and formed plans for their country walk, to take place the following morning (with a reminder that that word meant "before dinner" back then, and not necessarily the period before noon). Meanwhile, Isabella and James, along with John, have decided to head off to Clifton again (hopefully successfully this time, as opposed to the aborted attempt when Catherine was "abducted" by John Thorpe the other day). To which Catherine has the temerity to say NO and mean it.

Isabella, however, completely outs herself to Catherine for the first time. First she goes with wheedling and cajoling using endearments, then switches to reproach and guilt (a most unseemly thing for Isabella to do in public), and then to feigned tears and outright witchiness. "Isabella appeared to her ungenerous and selfish, regardless of everything but her own gratification." Can I get an "amen" from the choir? Meanwhile, James displays his jerk-ass tendencies flexibility by berating Catherine as well. (I say "flexibility" because it requires terrific limberness to wrap oneself that closely around another's little finger.)

Catherine wisely proposes a compromise – let's just go on Tuesday, or let one of the other Misses Thorpes ride with John – but she may as well be speaking Greek as to try to talk sense to that lot. Her brother and Isabella continue to heap abuse on her, whilst Thorpe sneaks off and lies to Miss Tilney. That he, Isabella and James are pleased with his decision just goes to show how exceedingly poor their manners are. And we have the immediate contrast of Catherine's manners, who knows what the right thing is and is committed to doing it.

And at that moment, Catherine developed a spine.
"I do not care. Mr. Thorpe had no business to invent any such message. If I had thought it right to put it off, I could have spoken to Miss Tilney myself. This is only doing it in a ruder way; and how do I know that Mr. Thorpe has -- he may be mistaken again perhaps; he led me into one act of rudeness by his mistake on Friday. Let me go, Mr. Thorpe; Isabella, do not hold me."

Thorpe told her it would be in vain to go after the Tilneys; they were turning the corner into Brock Street, when he had overtaken them, and were at home by this time.
"Then I will go after them," said Catherine; "wherever they are I will go after them. It does not signify talking. If I could not be persuaded into doing what I thought wrong, I never will be tricked into it." And with these words she broke away and hurried off. Thorpe would have darted after her, but Morland withheld him. "Let her go, let her go, if she will go."
"She is as obstinate as -- "
Thorpe never finished the simile, for it could hardly have been a proper one.

Sing it, narrator lady, sing it!

Meanwhile, we get a taste of internal monologue using free indirect discourse, a device that Austen started using early, but truly perfected when she got to Emma: "As she walked, she reflected on what had passed. It was painful to her to disappoint and displease them, particularly to displease her brother; but she could not repent her resistance. Setting her own inclination apart, to have failed a second time in her engagement to Miss Tilney, to have retracted a promise voluntarily made only five minutes before, and on a false pretence too, must have been wrong."

Catherine busts in on the Tilneys. In a most unladylike manner, too. She literally races into their house after them, then blurts explanations at them while panting from her exertion. Her eagerness to set things right, however, quickly overcomes any resentment or hostility from either of the Tilneys; also, having burst in on the General as well as his children, she is introduced to him. His extreme solicitude for her causes her to think that Thorpe was telling the truth about the General's high opinion of her – and indeed, he was telling the truth, but it is a truth that rests on a lie, as we shall eventually see. Catherine stays for 15 minutes (the appropriate length for a morning call according to etiquette books of the time), but is asked to stay for a longer visit – the sort of kindness that indicates that Catherine is extremely well-received at the Tilneys' home, and that further acquaintance is desired.

Upon leaving, Catherine is at first so pleased with herself that she even feels good about her manner of walking: "Catherine, delighted by all that had passed, proceeded gaily to Pulteney-street, walking, as she concluded, with great elasticity, though she had never thought of it before." Brava, Miss Austen, for this sort of detail. I cannot presume to speak for others, but on days when I'm feeling particularly powerful or pleased with myself, this is just the sort of thing I think myself (perhaps accompanied by a brainradio track of "I'm Too Sexy", depending on the day). That Austen thought this through and committed it to paper is the sort of verisimilitude that gives us insight into her characters and keeps us reading centuries later. Yes, I'm serious about that particular fangirling sentiment.

On getting back to her lodgings with the Allens, Catherine checks with Mr. Allen to be certain she did the right thing. He expresses disapproval of the idea of unwed, unchaperoned couples gallivanting about in open carriages too much, and, in particular, of unwed, unchaperoned couples stopping at inns for rest and/or refreshments*, as one might expect them to do if they were going as far as they said they intended to. Mrs. Allen agrees that open carriages are a bad idea because they soil one's gown and tumbles one's hair. (Oh, Mrs. Allen!) But she also agrees that it looks bad for young ladies to ride out often in open carriages driven by men to whom they are unrelated.

*As a side-note, Austen family tradition says that when Jane and her sister, Cassandra, were students at the Reading Ladies' Boarding School with their cousin, Jane Cooper, two Edwards (Austen and Cooper) came along and took their sisters out to an inn. That was considered a rather funny incident because it was considered a bit audacious – and the parties involved were siblings and first cousins (and they were pretty young). In fairness, first cousins still sometimes married back then – Jane Austen's brother Henry married their first cousin, Eliza – so they still counted as unchaperoned, unwed couples.

I have to say, I kind of love Mrs. Allen's response after Catherine chastises her for not saying something sooner:
"[A]s I told Mrs. Morland at parting, I would always do the best for you in my power. But one must not be over particular. Young people will be young people, as your good mother says herself. You know I wanted you, when we first came, not to buy that sprigged muslin, but you would. Young people do not like to be always thwarted."

Catherine, earnest soul that she is, is so concerned about the impropriety of the carriage ride that she wants to run off and tell Isabella not to go. Gotta love Mr. Allen for stepping in there with his common-sense advice:
"You had better leave her alone, my dear; she is old enough to know what she is about, and if not, has a mother to advise her. Mrs. Thorpe is too indulgent beyond a doubt; but, however, you had better not interfere. She and your brother chuse to go, and you will be only getting ill-will."

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